After days of intense pressure from residents and reporters, the government of Ontario has released speculative models that suggest that even with rigorous public health measures in place, COVID-19 could kill between 3,000 and 15,000 people in the province.
While those numbers might seem frightening (and perhaps even discouraging), projections from Public Health Ontario suggest that with no physical distancing or other interventions, the death toll could climb to 100,000 people.
The highly-anticipated numbers, promised by Ontario Premier Doug Ford on April 2, were unveiled by Dr. Peter Donnelly, President and CEO of Public Health Ontario, Matthew Anderson, President and CEO of Ontario Health, and Adalsteinn Brown, Dean of the Dalla Lana School of Public Health, at an April 3 press conference.
You can see the entire report below:
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The report cautions that models cannot be trusted to effectively predict the future, but are instead used to help plan for what could happen. The report says that as with any model, the farther out predictions are made, the more uncertain they are.
The report says there is more confidence in the projections for the next 30 days than in the longer-term projections.
Assumptions were used to inform the model and experts modelled how the disease spreads based on data from other countries.
The report says that with no intervention, Ontario could see up to 6,000 deaths and 300,000 cases by April 30. With current measures in place, the province could see 1,600 deaths and 80,000 new cases.
If more extreme precautions are taken, the province could see 200 deaths and 12,500 cases.
The report suggests 220,000 cases and 4,400 deaths could be prevented by the current actions being taken.
The model says that 410 ICU beds are currently available for COVID-19 patients in addition to beds currently filled with those suffering complications from the virus. At this point, the province says 900 additional ICU beds can be added to help cope with the crisis.
According to data released by the province on April 2, 462 COVID-19 patients are currently hospitalized, with 194 being treated in intensive care units. One-hundred and forty patients are currently using ventilators.
Donnelly told reporters that the COVID-19 pandemic could last anywhere from 18 to 24 months given the possibility of “secondary and tertiary waves”, but he did not suggest that extreme physical distancing measures will need to be in place for that period of time. That said, he did acknowledge that current measures could be in place for some time yet.
As for how long people will be expected to essentially put their lives on hold, the experts did not provide an estimation on when current distancing measures might be lifted. That said, a federal government document obtained by The National Post suggests the country expects such measures could be in place until at least July.
The federal government has promised to release its own national models, which could also set out predictions for death and infection rates, once it collects the most current data from the provinces and territories.
During the press conference, Donnelly said that elderly people are most at risk of serious complications, adding that the death rate in patients over 80 is close to 16 per cent. The mortality rate for people over 70 is about 10 per cent.
At a later press conference, Ford acknowledged that the data was concerning and stressed the importance of short-term physical distancing.
“If we work together, we can write the last chapter of our story because these forecasts are projections and they can change with your actions and the government’s actions,” Ford told reporters.
“We’ve seen today that we can lower these numbers and stop the curve.”
Ontario is currently reporting 3,255 cases of the novel coronavirus in the province. The province says 67 people have died of the disease, while another 1,023 have made full recoveries.
“There are 1,600 people out there who need us to do everything we can to help save them. My government is prepared to take every step possible,” Ford said.
“We’re moving as quickly as we can and acting immediately as data changes and taking additional steps to flatten the curve.”
Cover photo courtesy of The Canadian Press